The Passive Voice in English: When Should You Use It?

In English you use the passive voice when you want to be vague, noncommittal, inexact, deceptive, pretentious and wordy. That is why lawyers tend to love this tense. That is not to say that lawyers are vague, noncommittal, inexact, deceptive, pretentious or wordy. It would be a bit unfair to say it is only lawyers who can be like that.

The fact is, almost anyone may need to be one or more of those adjectives under various circumstances and they would therefore need to employ the passive voice.

NOTE THE FOLLOWING ABOUT THE PASSIVE VOICE IN ENGLISH:

  • With the passive voice, you may not know who commits the act, only that the act was committed. (Example: The book was taken.)
  • With the passive voice, you will always need the verb “to be” and sometimes you also need the verb “to have.”
  • Almost any verb tense in English can be changed to the passive construction including the conditional perfect using “would.”
  • Typically, with the passive voice, you sentence will end with “by someone” or “by something.” However, often, you can leave off the “by” clause and it will still be understood even though not expressly stated.
  • With the passive voice, the object becomes the subject in the passive construction.
  • With the passive voice, you have to add “being” to all continuous passive tenses.
  • For some tenses and verbs, the passive voice is very awkward and you should avoid using it and use the active voice instead.

BELOW, FIND AN EXAMPLE OF THE BASIC PASSIVE TENSES IN ENGLISH:

 

ACTIVE VOICE PRESENT TENSE:

The woman holds her son lovingly.

PASSIVE VOICE PRESENT TENSE:

The son is held lovingly by the woman.

 

ACTIVE VOICE PRESENT CONTINUOUS

The lightening is striking my car!

PASSIVE VOICE PRESENT CONTINUOUS

My car is being struck by the lightening!

 

ACTIVE VOICE SIMPLE PAST 

The chef cooked the meal

PASSIVE VOICE SIMPLE PAST

The meal was cooked by the chef.

 

ACTIVE VOICE PAST CONTINUOUS

The seamstress was dressing the bride when the zipper popped.

PASSIVE VOICE PAST CONTINUOUS

The bride was being dressed by the seamstress when the zipper popped.

 

ACTIVE VOICE PAST PERFECT

If he had known, he would not have pulled the trigger.

PASSIVE VOICE PAST PERFECT

The trigger would not have been pulled if he had known.

 

ACTIVE VOICE PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS

The president had been planning to ban immigrants for many years even before he was elected.

PASSIVE VOICE PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS

Banning immigrants had been being planned by the president for years, even before he was  elected

 

ACTIVE VOICE PRESENT PERFECT

The school has put on a theatrical performance for the last fifteen years.

PASSIVE VOICE PRESENT PERFECT

A theatrical performance has been put on by the school for the last fifteen years.

 

ACTIVE VOICE PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS

Jane and her husband have been demolishing their home for the last two months.

PASSIVE VOICE PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS

For the last two months, the home has been being demolished by Jane and her husband.

 

ACTIVE VOICE FUTURE SIMPLE

Geanne will drive me to the airport tomorrow.

Geanne is going to drive me to the airport tomorrow.

 

PASSIVE VOICE FUTURE SIMPLE

I will be driven to the airport tomorrow by Geanne.

I am going to be driven to the airport tomorrow by Geanne.

 

 

 

 

 

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